Your horse could benefit from buddying up with a smaller companion…
Horses don’t choose to live alone, they are herd creatures who thrive in company. Sometimes it’s not always possible to be with another horse, the next best thing can be another species entirely and that’s where goats come in.
Betty Judge is a professional breeder who has sold all manner of cats, dogs, horses, sheep and goats. When asked can horses and goats get on? The answer from Betty? “Totally.”
Continued: “It really depends on the horse. Pygmy goats are very level-headed; if a horse wants company then goats can fulfil that. They do get attached to each other. Goats have a more consistent character than horses, with horses you have different breeds and levels of ‘blood’.”
Remittance Man, a well-known racehorse back in the 1990s, went everywhere with his sheep companion called Nobby. It clearly made a difference as he was a steeplechaser with prolific results.
These days nutrition plays a part in settling a nervous horse, there’s an array of calmers on the market. But Betty prefers to see anxious horses settled by a four-legged alternative; she’s found goats to be of great comfort.
Betty said: “It doesn’t matter they are different species or size. I would suggest separating at feeding time or tying them up while they are eating, so they don’t swap bowls.”
Betty also suggested debudding the goats – the removal of horns when they are about a week old. Horns can cause many injuries, including to the goats themselves; they can get caught in fencing, horse rugs, hay nets. Goats like horses, love hay.
Keeping each other company, goats and horses can keep each other calm. When first introduced, they should meet with a fence in-between. When put together, they should be watched closely, in-case the horse does not agree, a match cannot be taken for granted.
Caroline Lewis has had horses, sheep and goats together for years, she said: “I bought Poppy and Parsley, full size goats as companions for my horse, Laura, after she lost her elderly horse companion. Laura took to them immediately and they seemed equally taken with her.”
Caroline added: “I put Laura in foal so she would actually have a proper horse companion. She gave birth to Georgie Girl, when I weaned her, Laura ran with the sheep and the goats became nannies to the foal. They played with her and were every bit as good a companions as having another foal to keep her company. So in my opinion, goats and horses can co-habit successfully.”
The dangers of sharing a paddock need to be considered – horses that want to kick, bite or chase could be fatal to a small animal.
A benefit of horses grazing with sheep is the sheep will help ‘clean’ the paddock of worms which will help your horse keep its worm burden low.
Jenny Marks is another smallholder who enjoys the entertainment of owning Pygmy goats. Pygmy goats, as the name suggests, grow to a diminutive height of about half a metre. They love climbing and socialising and just like horses, they eat hay, water and some basic concentrate feed.
Jenny said they began by putting the goats and horses in paddocks next to each other by way of introduction.
Jenny said: “They were then let in the field with goat-sized escape routes so they could get out if they weren’t happy. I did worry about them being kicked, stood on or injured in some way, but they have been great friends.”
Jenny separates at mealtimes as the goats cause a bit of disruption. She also mentioned the goats like eating the horse’s manes and tails, but Jenny believes the benefits of the co-habiting outweigh her Shetland pony receiving an unflattering hair do.
Jenny said: “They provide company without the expense of another pony to care for and keep. They don’t eat a great deal, they have hay and a handful of goat mix. We trim their feet ourselves, so no farrier costs.”
Her final advice is, unless you plan to breed, get your billy goats castrated, they will be easier to handle and won’t have the billy goat smell!